tv Tavis Smiley PBS September 29, 2010 1:00am-1:30am EDT
of the harlem children's zone and he is the center of a new project. the sellout -- the film is a look at education in 20th- century america. the film is now open in select cities. "waiting for superman" is coming up right now. >> all i know is his name is james and he needs extra help with his reading. >> i am james. >> yes. >> to everyone making a difference, you help us all a better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. nationwide insurance is on your side. >> and by contributions from their pbs station from viewers like you. thank you.
tavis: geoffrey canada is the ceo of the harlem tilden's zone. he is at the center of a wonderful new project from davis guggenheim called "waiting for superman." the film is a look at the state of public education in this country. >> one of the saddest days of my life was when my mother told me superman did not exist. i was a comic book readers. i read comic books. i love them. even in the death of the ghetto, you just thought -- in the depths of again, you just thought he would show up and he
saves all the good people. maybe i was in the fourth grade. my mom said, superman is not real. what do you mean he is not? no, he is not real. she thought i was crying because i thought santa claus was not real. i cried because no one was coming with enough power to save us. kids look at the world and the make certain predictions based on the evidence they are receiving from their peers, from their parents, and from their teachers. from their perspective, the world as a heartless, coldblooded place because, from their side, they have received the short end of the stick and they do not know why. >> is good to see you again. tavis: let me ask you about this clip. of all the things you could have titled this documentary, why "24 superman?"
>> i have some news to break you. your mom was wrong. superman is real. he was just -- she was just looking in the wrong place. [laughter] what jeffrey has done in his neighborhood with those kids is not just helping those kids. he has broken through a system of beliefs. some kids in these neighborhoods believe that this is what you get and maybe i am not smart or maybe i am not to have a great education. jeffrey has shattered that. >tavis: i was saying before we came on camera that i have a foundation that works with young people. every summer, we have hundreds of kids from all across the country, every state, that come to l.a. to take over the campus of ucla
and bear down with them on what it means to be a leader and how that process starts now. i am not talking about college kids. we are looking at 13 to 18. we try to make an impact on these kids' lives and the concept of leadership and what it means to serve people starting at an early age. this summer, the studio was kind enough to premiere this film privately for the kids, these 13 to 18-year-old kids. i sat in the back of the room with the kids. i was anxious to see it before you came on the show. i sat in the auditorium with those hundreds of kids and i was blown away by the way they receive this film. i was not sure they were going to get it the way they did. but these kids, not adults, it hit the skids hard. leslie was there. the kids were bearing down on her after wars with serious
questions. -- afterwards with serious questions. do they get have shortchanged they are in this system? >> that is such a great question. our young people are looking around trying to figure out why is it like this? and what chances do i really have? am i really smart? here is something that a lot of us do not think about. you have millions of young people who really are sitting there now thinking i am really not that smart because i am i getting it. i am not learning. and they think there is something wrong with them. then they look at the film and realize it is not me. it is not me. i am ok. when kids do not believe they are smart, they do not work hard. what is the use of trying? i am not going to get it. it is my job to make you get it. that is why i get paid.
you did not learn it so you get the f and you got left back. after years of that, what do you think happens to these kids? they start believing something is wrong with me and all my friends and everybody else i know, except for this tiny group of kids who seem to be doing ok and we present those kids -- and we resent those kids. this is the first time we looked at the system and we said maybe it does the system and not us. i am sure it is a revelation. what happens after that is they get angry. how did you guys let this happen to me? you know all this time that it was not me and i thought it was me. tavis: the kids in the auditorium got angry and they got hurt. i do not want to give too much of the movie away. this is the most powerful documentary i've seen in years. it is a powerful piece. we can talk about the politics
of people who do not agree with. but it is a powerful piece about education in this country. the kids got angry first and then they got hurt. the movie follows a number of kids and the journey that they are wrong, that their parents dhahran, trying to see if they -- parents are on, try to see if they will get into a school that does work. it has the process for the journey they are on. all the kids in our foundation gathering are rooting for these kids, like they know them. all of these kids in this room are rooting for the kids, hoping they get in. when the movie progresses and you see each one of these kids are caught up in a lottery system, whether or not they pull
your number and you get into a school that actually works, it crushed these kids. these kids were crying in the auditorium. >> it crushed us. we are playing being go with these kids futures. people will criticize the movie for this and for that, but everyone will see the universality of the kids and the families who are motivated and they want a great future. they should not have to play bingo to win at a chance for a grade education. >tavis: if the critics of your film say that the film is pro- tour and anti-union. you're attacking the teachers' union and the point that the schools that you highlight in the film, many of which are charter schools. >> the film states clearly that more -- that most art schools
are not working. but the ones that are working, their work with the very same kids and the parents know it is working and their kids will be successful if they get into those schools. here's the challenge for public education in america. if we know something works, why is that the exception and not the rule? if they are doing something creative and different that is children,r ppoor particularly those of color, why is not everybody embracing that. these are public schools. they are not. their public schools without unions. let's say what it is. if they were public schools with unions, no one would say that you were highlighting charter schools. part of this is the fact that people are upset because these particular schools do not have unions. they have been allowed to innovate. that is one of the challenges we
have in america. we have to innovate. if something is not working -- i grew up in the south bronx. i started school in 1957. the schools were lousy in 1957. they are still lousy today. how is it we can have a system where schools can remain lousy for 50 years and yet you do exactly the same thing this year that they did 50 years ago when it did not work then and nobody changes? every president has said that he wants to be the education president. you tell me why it is still lousy after all these years. is it alaska -- the lack of will or the lack of skill? >> it is the lack of will to confront this problem. we have not invested in innovation. we have stifled innovation. this is where competition comes in with the teachers' union.
it is not anti-union. it is pro-innovation. if something is not working, let's change something. so what did they do? they do longer school days and longer school years. this is not revolution. this is not making some be a bad guy. this is how you fix this system. -- making somebody a bad guy. this is how you fix the system. >> i am assuming you are a lefty. i am a member of a great union, the directors guild of america. when workers organize and america, it was a wonderful thing. i believe the teachers' union should be around for a very long time. they should make sure their workers get paid a lot of money and they should protect them from abuse. but they should not get in the way of reform. they should not be fighting in politics, trying to keep charters down and keeping the school day shorter and protecting that
teachers. when you talk to parents, they do not care if the school is called charter or bangor a district school. they just want a great school. tavis: it does create good guys and bad guys in the minds of parents. washington, d.c. is a case in point. in the last two days, even if you do not know what is in d.c., adrian phen de, -- adrian fenty who was elected there, we have known for years how bad the schools are in the nation's capital. is a shame how bad the schools can be in the nation's capital. e. appointed michele rea she started firing unqualified teachers and bad teachers left and right. she becomes the enemy number one fear in her life is threatened. she is traveling with security.
she is the head of the school district and people are threatening her life because of the changes she is making in the city. fenty loss to the other day. everyone thinks that michelle rea is on her way out. >> the very people you thought would have embraced reform were very upset. let me tell you a little bit of what -- i cannot say exactly these things. let me tell you a little bit of what i have seen. our families have gotten so used to having everything taken from them. they try to integrate the schools. they have not seen that happen in lots of places. here comes someone saying i will fire teachers and close a school. people are aware that this is not a d.c. issue. it is a national problem. the whole country is facing it. if those same parents would have
seen this movie and if they understood that this was a national problem, michele ree would not be the enemy. the would realize that when she is doing is what everybody should be doing across america. this is the of the thing that has happened. in this discussion, this is what people do not realize. they allow the teachers to vote on a new contract. and they voted yes. the teachers actually wanted to do this. it was not michele pierre they raised their hand and said -- it was not michelle. they raise their hand and said, yes, i want this. teachers want something exciting and innovative teachers, because they are teachers, they did the right thing for their children. >> but the politics -- tavis: you cannot disconnect these
two things. of the cut throat politics of education, and two of my best friends in l.a. have kids that go to the best schools in this town. through my relationship with them, i have learned about the politics of what you have to do in this town to get your kids into schools that lead to id leagues. -- to the ivy league. fenty thought he was doing the right thing. he brought in michele ree. all hell breaks loose. fenty loses . he called president obama, who has been pushing this race to the top programs and he tells obama.
do not tell me there is not politics on this. they cut every which way. >> who this is big politics. let's not pretend that there is not a whole bunch of folks who are organized -- teachers' unions -- with money who do not want to see this happen. they do not want to see race to the top happen and they do not want to see this movie. when i said the system has remained this way for 50 years, this is why. this is why. what do you think that america gets? you try to save those four black kids and you will lose your job. if every mayor and governor runs on that, black kids will never get an education in this country. they have to stand up and say, i will do the right thing. tavis: if the obama
administration is pushing this issue and one of their guys stands up on the right side of this issue as you all see it and michelle ree stands up and the white house does not come through to campaign for them to get reelected, what are we talking about here? >> i made a documentary about public school teachers. when there to class every day, they did a beautiful job. but outside of the cause of the classroom, you could see the system crushing them. there is a centralized bureaucracy. there was the union question. and there were politicians writing in and giving lip service and riding away. i said, let's make a movie that has nothing to do with the politics. i am making this movie for mothers and fathers who want a great school for their kids. if the movie works hand people gather around the movie, screw the politicians. this is not for them. this is not for obama. this is not for bush.
this is for families. the kids that see this movie, they start to demand that the system changes. there was a controversy. maybe it is real and maybe it is not. but they see the film and they say, guys, this is what we want. they do not want the politicians yelling at each other. they want great schools. they deny care to the present is -- to the president is. they want people rolling up their sleeves g likeeoffrlike gy does. tavis: i think words have meaning. i think language is important. this term "raced to the top" which is this a administration's approach to it, it destroys me. number one, education is not a race. it is a guarantee. every child has the right to a top quality education.
the notion of a race implies that someone will win and someone will lose. how do we go about solving the problem, starting with the language? >> just so i'm transparent on this issue, the president has put in "raced to the top" everything that i wanted to shake up this system. and they put enough money in here to actually move states. i have been doing education reform for 28 years in new york. i have not seen any federal program have an impact were states raised their hand and said let me sign up and do these four or five things the way this program did. i think it is a smart strategy. i think it is having an impact. we will continue to see states and cities grapple with how you bring innovation in. well people may be upset with of the language and other issues,
using enough money in education in states that have no interest at all, i think that was a pretty brilliant move. i support the present and arnie with "raced to the top." i know that people in congress hit this because the teachers unions want to see it out. closingladdie's -- lousy schools and using data -- >> when you hear people arguing this, what are they really saying? i want the status quo to stay. all the adults are happy. that is what michelle ree says. this system is built for harmony among adults. the status quo stays the same. the adults are ok and the kids are screwed. the house is on fire.
if we do not make radical changes and pushed the status quo, we will never fix our schools. tavis: i am not arguing with that premise. i wanted to press the issue, , geoffreyhat i got a g,eoffr offering his transparency. you initially said no to doing this. you went to geoffrey. and now we have this great documentary. >> we are happy to say we were wrong. tavis: why did you say no, david? >> first of all, he was busy. tavis: you said no, too, though. >> i had done a movie 10 years ago about the public school teachers, heart. i also felt that it was a
storytelling quagmire. it is so complicated. i said no in august and september was getting my kids ready for school. in the movie, it is a scene that every parent does. you pack the lunch and the backpack and you get their shoes. what you're saying is that i am getting ready to drop my kids off and take this leap of faith. who is going to teach our kids? and i had this feeling that my kids are going to be ok. but as i drove them to school, i watched the schools that are passed. i drove past three public schools. i thought, what about the schools in my neighborhood? i am not in the slums. but the kids in my neighborhood are not getting what my kids are getting. what about making a film that makes people care and fight for the people's children the way we fight for our own? that was a promise. i do not know how to do it, but i have to do it. tavis: i want to give you the
last word. something that unsettles me as something whether or not it is so complex. in california, they say it is ungovernable. is this problem so big that the fight is unwinnable? >> we do more around the environment. if you think about all the things we do different now, how much recycling is going on -- we have not done anything on education. we have not tried one thing. we care more about the environment than we do about those poor kids who are not getting an education. it is because we do not know. it is not likely try and we failed. we have not tried. there has been no innovation. we have not allowed it to happen. let's go out. let's innovate. let's recycle. let's come up with new ideas.
no one has anybody buying stuff in the store because we sought changes. we have to make sure that this is a crisis in america and at that all of us say that we will change it. >> he and others have proven that it is possible. those parents should do not care and those kids cannot learn board cost too much money or it does not affect me. he has proven -- he has proven that you can teach these kids and bring them to college. >> tavis: guggenheim is a wonderful director. geoffrey canada, educator extraordinaire. there is none greater in the country better than geoffrey
canada. i am happy to have you on the program. if you see one documentary this year, make it "waiting for superman." that visit our show for tonight. until next time, keep the faith. tavis: join me next time for a conversation with the award winning crime novelist james conroy. that is next time. we will see you then. >> all i know is his name is james and he needs extra help with his reading. >> i am james. >> yes. >> to everyone making a difference, thank you. you help us all live better. >> nationwide insurance support tavis smiley. nationwide is happy to join him in fighting literacy. nationwide is on your side.